(BCN) — With about 5 percent of the 7 million ballots cast still to be counted, Lance Christensen, a conservative education policy analyst, is the presumptive second place finisher who will challenge incumbent Tony Thurmond in the November election for California superintendent of public instruction.

With 11.7 percent of the vote, Christensen has built a 35,000 vote lead over Ainye Long, a San Francisco Unified math teacher, and a 44,000 vote lead over George Yang, a software engineer from Redwood City. On Election night, Christensen trailed both by a few thousand votes, but gained daily as final mail-in and provisional ballots were counted.

As of Thursday, 18 days since the primary election in pursuit of his second and final term, Thurmond has 46.2 percent, or 2.8 million votes. He needed at least 50 percent of the vote in the primary to avoid a runoff election, one of two statewide constitutional offices with that requirement.

In the latest results, the secretary of state’s office reported that 376,000 out of 7 million votes cast remained to be counted. The final day for all disputed ballots to be reported is July 18. Counties with the most uncounted votes are San Diego, 69,000; Sacramento, 61,000; San Mateo, 44,000; and Kern, 43,000.

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Christensen is vice president of education policy for the California Policy Center. He previously held several positions in the state Capitol, as a legislative consultant in the state Senate, adviser to former Republican

Sen. John Moorlach, and a finance budget analyst for the Department of Finance. A late entrant to the race, he raised only $39,000 in the primary, compared with $2 million by Thurmond, and will have to start again from scratch.

He helped to draft wording this year for an Education Savings Account, a school choice initiative that would have provided families with $15,000 for tuition and expenses to attend a private school of their choice. The proposal was withdrawn before it could qualify for the November ballot.

Christensen is expected to make school choice a campaign issue.

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